By Meg Downey
Call him a villain or call him an antihero, the one thing that can’t be denied is that Deathstroke is growing in popularity. In this exclusive look at the character, co-creators Marv Wolfman and George Perez offer their thoughts on why that might be.
There are a lot of villains in the DC Universe and all of them are pretty unique. From your Lex Luthors to your Jokers, your Cheetahs to your Gorilla Grodds, every evil corner of the DC Universe brings something unique to the table.
And then there’s Slade Wilson.
Now, don’t worry. I’m not going to argue that Deathstroke is the best villain ever in the world, and I’m not going to try and convince you that he could beat anyone in a fight—though, let’s face it, there’s a pretty long list of people who he absolutely could. But I do want to take a second here and really talk about what sets Slade apart.
Let’s start with the fact that he’s not really a villain at all. Admittedly, it’s hard to call him an antihero, especially since he’s a contract killer and a generally pretty bad dude (and the fact that his most famous adversaries are a group of teenagers doesn’t help), but over the last several years, that’s probably the closest name for what he’s become. In the Rebirth era, he’s even turned over a new leaf as a mentor and team leader—a role he’s taken on in the past, but never quite like this, and never quite this…well, semi-altruistically.
But Slade’s unique qualities aren’t an invention of the modern day. In a recent conversation with his creators, Marv Wolfman and George Perez, we’re able to get some insight on the earliest days of Deathstroke and how even his first steps put him on a totally different path.
“In terms of the personality? I never saw him as a villain, I saw him as a character who was getting sucked into a system that he couldn’t get out of,” Wolfman explained. “He only attacked the Titans because his son took on the job and failed and died, and he had pledged to back his son up.”
“He always had his own code of honor,” Perez said, corroborating that opinion. “Any mercenary, assassin, you don’t question that you’re going to be killing someone—that’s your job. You kill them. And he was a mercenary. There’s a certain nobility to that, even though, of course, he’s fighting the heroes, so that makes him the enemy. But he does follow this code of honor and he doesn’t break it. That makes him a unique character in that respect.”
On top of his honor, Slade’s also got an entire family to worry about—one that keeps him squarely in the “it’s complicated” category with the Titans. Not only are both his son and daughter, Joey and Rose, on-again-off-again members of the team, his entire rivalry with them is based around his sense of duty to his son who died trying to become him. It’s all pretty rough, even for an antihero origin story, and one that could almost make him a sort of reverse-Batman. A man obsessed with avenging the life of his own child in all the worst ways, rather than someone obsessed with avenging his parents in all the best. (For more on that, read my recent post on Christopher Priest and Carlo Pagulayan’s excellent “Deathstroke vs. Batman” storyline.)
Of course, Slade’s isn’t the only soldier of fortune prowling the streets of places like Gotham and Metropolis. It gives him a unique flavor, to be sure, but there’s more to a memorable villain or a sympathetic antihero. He’s gotta look good too.
“I think that costume that George designed is so incredible,” Wolfman shared. “It’s powerful and its unique, and he created a silhouette for the character that is instantly recognizable for the character as soon as you see it.”
Slade’s costume has barely changed over the last thirty years, and that blue and orange color palette has stuck around. That’s pretty significant considering how much most of the NEW TEEN TITANS characters have evolved since then.
Of course, a consistent look doesn’t mean he’s a stagnant character. Slade’s flexibility has afforded him his longevity as much as his iconic outfit has. There’s room to move as far as Deathstroke’s motivation and tone are concerned. He can be the cold-blooded killer, the scorned husband, the overprotective father and the jealous perfectionist, all in the span of a few issues. And none of those shades are wrong for him.
In a world where adaptation and evolution are key, Slade’s multifaceted persona has cleared a path for him to find success just about anywhere and everywhere he might want to show his face. He’s appeared in animated movies like Son of Batman and Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, animated TV like Teen Titans and Young Justice, live action TV including Smallville and Arrow, and videogames like Injustice: Gods Among Us. He’s the after-credits cameo at the end of Justice League. Heck, he’s even about to try his hand at big screen comedy in the upcoming Teen Titans GO! to the Movies. Sure, we may not think of Deathstroke as a particularly funny guy anywhere else, but if there’s one thing these last several decades have proven, it’s that Slade Wilson has always got another trick up his sleeve.